CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 18. . . .May 2, 2008
Marthe Jocelyn, ed.
Toronto, ON: Tundra Books, 2007.
191 pp., pbk., $12.99.
Life change events-Juvenile fiction.
Short stories, Canadian (English).
Short stories, American.
Grades 6-10 / Ages 11-15.
Review by Ruth Sands.
We select a balanced junk-food menu of chips, dogs, and cereal, with a side of popcorn and ice cream for dessert. We agree a predinner cocktail is in order. Not booze. We're being responsible; what we have in mind is a Flush Puppy.
We invented Flush Puppies back in grade nine, when we formed the band with the other guys. Everybody agreed they were the perfect initiation. You start with club soda and milk, then you freestyle with anything you can find. This time we put in salt, mustard, relish, olive oil, anchovy paste, lemon juice, cayenne pepper, curry powder, maple syrup, and soy sauce. I get out two shot glasses and plug in the blender. "Ready?"
"Wait, we forgot the puppy!" Trevor pops in a hot dog. "Now" I don't remember the lid until after I start the blender, but it doesn't spray that far. There's enough left for two shots. I pour, we clink glasses, and give the Flush Puppy toast, which is tipping your head back and howling awoooo, then, whammo, we sock the stuff back as fast as we can. Speed is important because the less you taste, the less chance there is that you'll hurl. (From "Issues" by Ted Staunton.)
So much about food, she agreed, depended on context "For instance," she said, "we were going to go to the movies tonight, but my little brother is sick. Now I'll be watching TV. And I won't be eating the same kind of snacks that I'd get at the movie theatre."
I stopped in the middle of the sidewalk. "You do that too?" I said. "You pick your snacks based on what you are doing?"
"Well sure. Doesn't everyone?" It was like meeting my twin, separated since birth. (From "First Time Never-Holding Hands" by Richard Scrimger.)
"Will you be alright here?" Mom looked deep into Emily's eyes.
"Did you have fun last night? Your first time sharing a room?"
"Yes, Mom. It's all good, I promise."
"Here, take this." Mom pushed a shopping bag into Emily's hands. "I know it's against the rules, but—"
Emily peeked inside to see cashews and chocolate bars and licorice and chewing gum. "Oh, thanks, Mom!"
"Shush now, your father wouldn't approve."
Emily walked with her parents out to the top of the drive, where their rental car was parked. Mom's eyes were leaking again, her nose pink and her smile rigid.
"Remember to take brave tastes,"said her father.
"And, once in a while, you'll find something you like," Emily chimed in. She found that she didn't mind being hugged. She could be generous. She was already, and finally, in a world of her own. One night in a foreign land and she could see her own realm more clearly. As she waved, Emily knew suddenly that this was the last time she would see her parents married. You always know when you're doing something for the first time, she thought. You remember the details. But only once in awhile do you notice that it's over and will never happen again. (From "The New World" by Marthe Jocelyn.)
Imagine taking the hand of your soul-mate only to have it come off when you pull too hard. In the short story "First Time – Never Holding Hands" by Richard Scrimger, young Petey has an interesting way with food and with the ladies. When he is given the school assignment to write about the first time holding hands with a girl, he describes his perfect soul-mate and the terrifying interaction with her flesh eating family. While the girl may be a zombie, the feelings Petey has about holding a girl's hand for the first time are very normal and come across superbly to the reader.
In Bill Habeeb's "Please Help," the reader is reminded of just how strong and crazy young love can be. The narrator, Billy, suddenly finds himself hopelessly in love with his history teacher, Ms. Barnes. Initially, he fights against the feelings, but love is too strong, and eventually Billy ends up in the ladies change room with his pants around his ankles and a charge for shoplifting. Who amongst us doesn't agree with his final pleas that we be taught how to avoid the dangers of love?
In First Times, Marthe Jocelyn has brought together a wonderful compilation of short stories which capture the firsts of youth. From tales of first love to committing a first crime, these stories captivate readers and take them back to a time of innocence. Jocelyn adds her own voice in the tale "The New World" in which a young girl decides that a whole new change of venue is in order when her parents decide to divorce. In the face of such family upset, Emily goes to boarding school in an entirely new country. She has to learn to live by a new set of rules and with a new set of people as the antidote to her parents' troubles at home. The tale is poignant and uplifting.
There are a couple of stories that are a little different in their approach to the issue of first times. In Sarah Ellis' "Early Girl," the reader is treated to a strange tale of a group of children living in an underground world. The story has post-apocalyptic feel to it, but, as Sarah Ellis is such a strong writer, the story comes out as charming rather than weird. As always, Ellis can see through the eyes of children and communicates that to the reader.
This collection of short stories includes contributions by some of the best Canadian writers, and, although categorized as juvenile fiction, there is plenty for the adult reader. On the whole, this collection deals with the issues of youth in a very approachable and humorous manner. For those readers interested in reliving the glories and some times humiliations of youth, First Times is recommended.
Ruth Sands is a freelance writer from Vancouver, BC.
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